Food Not Bombs Volunteer Arrested For Giving Away Free Food

During the Christmas Season, the spirit of giving to those less fortunate increases and peace on Earth and goodwill toward all people is heard throughout the land.

Food not Bombs feeds the hungry all year not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They are a 30 year-old-volunteer organization that recovers food that would be thrown out and makes hot vegetarian meals served to the homeless or anyone in need.   They also share groceries with communities in need. 

However, the Christmas spirit of giving does not extend to everyone as evident by a volunteer with Food Not Bombs who was arrested for giving free food to residents at 53 Park Apartments in DeKalb County.

The volunteer arrested on November 19 was released after 24 hours in the DeKalb jail on a signature bond.   

Fonda Pitman, the leasing manager not only had a young woman arrested for her humanitarian work but also ordered residents to “step away from the food table” under threat of eviction.   

Pitman was offended by a flyer Food Not Bombs made available to residents.    It was a flyer from Atlanta Housing Justice League on tenant’s rights. 

Unlike management, the residents are in full support of the free grocery program  Some of the tenants are elderly, have mobility issues, don’t have cars and/or struggling financially and the fresh fruits and vegetables are welcome additions to their diet.  

Food Not Bombs is not known for backing down from feeding hungry people even under threats of arrest.   So on November 26, they were back at 53 Park accompanied by Streets of Atlanta and Georgia Grassroots Video to document and report whatever happened. 

Several of us plus a police officer went to the management office to confirm that Food Not Bombs could set up the food tables inside the apartment complex. 

 Pitman was on vacation this week and a different woman was in charge.  This woman refused to give her name and was unfriendly, but did allow the group to set up food distribution tables at a different location on the property.   

The usual place for the food distribution was in a common area which was easy to access and see.  But the new food location, assigned by management, was hidden and hard to access for people with disabilities.   So Food Not Bombs put up a sign at the entrance of the street to let residents know where to find the free groceries. 

“I think it’s a wonderful thing they are doing for the community.  It’s helping the community with nutritious food. It’s the holidays and people really need canned goods, fresh fruits, and vegetables.  It’s a wonderful program and we want them to continue. We told the management company that we want you guys to stay,” Tea Bell Love English told Streets of Atlanta (SOA).  

“My grandmother is blind and she really appreciates the food, I always take a box of food to her apartment,” Reggie Pitts said

Christine Adele Maclean a/k/a Earthworm has worked this program for years and explained to Streets of Atlanta where they get the food.  

 “We get the food donated from grocery stores, restaurants that are about to expire or has a dent in the can.   The grocery stores are concerned about waste so they want the food to get to people who need it. We also receive food from a food distribution center.” 

While people were getting free food several tenants talked about other problems at 35 Park Apartments   They talked about bedbug infestation problems at the apartment complex, difficulty getting repairs fixed, and the 24-hour repair line is never answered and the mailbox is always full. 

It appears this is what management fears.  Tenants who gather for free groceries also talked about the poor conditions of their apartments and learn about their rights as tenants from the flyer that offends management.   

“I had, a severe leak from my ceiling in my bathroom it was six weeks before it was repaired and a month later the leak started again, Jamie Loughner told SOA.  

“We have been doing this Tuesday give away at this apartment complex for a few months.  At the beginning of November management came out and all of a sudden reversed their decision to let us have permission to be here and said you don’t have permission you have inappropriate flyers.  They had a problem with us giving out tenants rights flyers and then they had a problem with us being here,” Earthworm told SOA. 

Food Not Bombs gives the same flyers from the Housing Justice League away at all their other feeding locations in Edgewood on Sundays and Lakewood on Fridays.  Only 35 Park has taken offense with the flyer. 

Suddenly seven police cars pulled up and parked where the person holding the sign to direct residents to the free food was standing. 

“They (apartment management) often give verbal permission and then take it away,”  Reggie Pitts told SOA.  

Lt King, Earthworm, and a few others walked up the hill to the management office to see what was wrong this time.   The woman in the management office who told Food Not Bombs they could distribute free food called the police because she did not like someone holding a sign at the entrance to the street that directed residents to where the food was located. 

This is not only a waste of DeKalb taxpayer dollars to call the police for every petty little thing but also a waste of police time when they could be dealing with real crime. 

Bah Humbug to Ebenezer Scrooge over calling the police over a sign directing residents to the hidden location of the free food.  

Earthworm reported back what was said in the meeting with management and police.   Management had a hard line that nobody could be down at the corner where they usually serve.  But no one was at that corner, the sign was one street up from the usual place. 

  “We tried to tell them that nobody could see us in the new hidden away location that was assigned to us today.  So we put one person out there with a sign so people could see us and know to come out.”

Earthworm and the police offered to take food to people who are disabled and not able to climb the hill to the new location.   But the answer from management was NO.   

“Then it dissolved into an unreal and disgusting conversation,” Earthworm said.

“I’m sure these people have food stamps, ” a woman in the management office said.   

“They have money for rent so I’m sure they can afford food, and I’m sure no one is going hungry,”  the policewoman who made the arrest last week said.   

“These are assumptions on the part of management and police, they don’t know,” Earthworm said to SOA. 

 “I haven’t responded to any calls for death from starvation in this apartment complex,” Lt. King said. 

“Does that mean that as long as people are not dying from starvation, it’s ok if they are going hungry,” Earthworm said.  

“One person told us they had 3 pieces of bread and a hot dog to feed three people for dinner tonight, so they were hungry,” Earthworm responded. 

“The management is dangerously out of touch with the amount of poverty and needs in their apartment complex.   They are denying people free food, they are either out of touch or just callous and don’t care,” Earthworm said. 

Next week, Tuesday, December 3rd, everyone please come to 3529 Robins Landing Way, off of Glenwood Avenue, at noon and show solidarity with Park 35 tenants and Food Not Bombs volunteers.  

by Gloria Tatum

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